When you think of the French language, you probably mostly think about France or Quebec. But what many people don't realise is that the French language is spread across the world, just like English. There are 29 countries across the world with French as their official language. We here at FranceABC believe it's important to embrace and learn about each one of these cultures and their dialects as part of a global community of French speakers. So we've started a new series - French Around the Globe. And our first country is located in West Africa: Senegal. Here are some Senegal facts to introduce you to this vibrant culture!
Let's just start with basic Senegal facts.
Senegal is located on the West African coast on the Atlantic Ocean. It shares borders with Mali, Mauritania, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia juts in from the Atlantic through the centre of Senegal.
The capital city of Senegal is Dakar and its currency is the West African CFA Franc. As of 2019, Senegal was home to 16.3 million people. Their current president is Macky Sall, and has held the position since 2012. Senegal is a model democracy for Africa, with a March 2016 referendum shortening Senegalese presidential terms from seven years to five.
In the 8th century, Senegal was part of the Kingdom of Ghana, but in 1677, became a French colony. Battles between the English, French, and Portuguese for power over Senegal continued for many years, but, for the most part, Senegal remained under French rule. Because of nearly 300 years of French imperialism and trade, French remains Senegal's official language to this day.
Senegal finally won its independence in 1960.
Some final Senegal facts for you: its national symbols are the Lion and the Baobab Tree.
Languages of Senegal
While French is the official language of Senegal, more than 30 different languages are spoken. The most common of these is Wolof, with two-fifths of the population being of the Wolof community. This ethnic group influences contemporary music, arts, and cultural output.
Other common languages include Pular, Jola, Mandinka, Serer, and Soninke. These languages have played a key role in maintaining community in Senegal throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Two mottos have passed through these communities, as they protect themselves and their families from the virus, one in Wolof and another in French. In Wolof, 'teranga' stands for solidarity, hospitality, and community, which are values that Senegalese communities hold dear. And as the pandemic continues to spread, they say in French to one another 'on est ensemble' - we are in this together.
Africa's Cultural Hub
Senegal is known for its bright, vibrant culture. In fact, it's been called Africa's Cultural Centre.
Most of the country is Islamic (more than 90%), and their grand architectural beauty, the Grand Mosque of Touba, is a tremendous monument to that religion and its worshippers. Its interior tiling is absolutely stunning. Began in 1887 and finished in 1963, the Great Mosque boasts a 285 ft central minaret, dubbed the Lamp Fall.
Much of the popular and traditional music of Senegal is upbeat, featuring drums, and with Hip-Hop and Soul influence. One popular dance genre is called Mbalax, which has roots in the Serer people's musical tradition. Mbalax is also found in the Gambia. In and around the 1970s, Sabar - the Wolof people's drumming and dance music tradition - was fused with influences from jazz, Soul, Latin, rock, and rumba to produce this new, highly popular genre of music. An example of Mbalax, if you're interested, can be found here!
If you're interested in Senegalese literature, Miriama Ba, whose books are often written in French, is a good author to start with. These books are for adults and older teenagers. Alternatively, retellings of African folk tales can be found in Tales of Amadou Koumba by Birago Diop.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its powerful cultural output, Senegal is also home to some of the most flavourful and delicious dishes. Fish is an important aspect of Senegalese diet, making up more than half of the protein consumed. Fish is also an important export of Senegal, the catching and processing of fish making up an important economic trade for communities. Other common foodstuffs include tropical fruits (like plantains) and vegetables, couscous, rice, lentils, and sweet potatoes.
One of the most popular Senegalese dishes is ceebu jen, or Thieboudienne. This is a fish stew dish - its name, ceebu jen, is Wolof meaning 'rice and fish.' According to African Bites, one story claims that 'this dish was accidentally created by a cook at the colonial governor’s residence; rice was substituted in place of barley due to its shortage.' A recipe can also be found on African Bites.
A whole white fish is used for the dish, which is then scored and marinated in a mixture of herbs, such as parsley. The fish is then deep fried - still whole - and popped in a stew dish to cook away. The stew contains a tomato base, vegetables, and smoked fish. The type of fish and vegetables used is chef's choice, meaning it's highly adaptable for any person across the globe. Typical vegetables include cassava, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, and carrots. The fish is served with, as you may have guessed, rice!
We hope you enjoyed these Senegal facts and learned something new about another French culture today. Keep an eye on our blog for upcoming articles in our French Around the Globe series and let us know if you've got a French-speaking culture in mind that you'd like to learn more about!